Smriti Irani's Parliament speech proves she deserves her place in BJP

Vikram Johri
Vikram JohriFeb 25, 2016 | 10:53

Smriti Irani's Parliament speech proves she deserves her place in BJP

The brouhaha in Parliament on Wednesday may not dilute the polarised stance of those on the opposite ends of the political divide, but it undoubtedly proved one thing: Smriti Irani's rising status within the BJP is not unearned.

By turns angry and sentimental, Irani tore into the Opposition as she presented the facts of the matter pertaining to both Rohith Vemula's suicide and the JNU stand off. She excoriated Rahul Gandhi for politicising both issues and castigated the UPA for ruining Indian education for narrow ideological ends. Such was the sharpness of her attack that no member of the Congress was present in the House at the time of her speech.


Irani, who lost to Gandhi in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and yet was made a Rajya Sabha member and given the HRD portfolio, has faced brickbats from Day 1. From the time she was made minister, questions were raised about her suitability for the job, and an open and vicious campaign against her slight educational qualifications was launched.

The attacks have often been personal and brutal. Madhu Kishwar infamously said that she would not trust Irani with a "jam and pickle" ministry, alluding both to Irani's education and her starring role in Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, the mega-hit television show in which Irani played a Gujarati housewife.

On social media, Irani was (and continues to be) called Manusmriti Irani, referencing a Hindu text that is widely considered discriminatory towards women and Dalits. This is sought to be explained away on account of her closeness to the RSS.

No matter that charges of saffronisation lobbed incessantly against her have never been supported with documentary evidence. This is unlike the barrage of facts and figures that she presented in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday. Among other things, she spoke about vice-chancellor appointments and the executive council at Hyderabad University that decided Rohith's suspension, and how all of these appointments were made not by her, but the UPA.


The media's reaction to her steady rise has been no better. Around this time last year, Outlook did a cover story on her which claimed that she was on her way out of the HRD ministry and bolstered this claim with a slew of assertions from unidentified sources. That story, a journalistic joke, is all the more comedic in retrospect because not only is Irani very much in the government, she is going from strength to strength as evidenced by Wednesday's events.

Calcutta's Telegraph ran a front-page lead during the JNU fracas, with Irani's caricature emblazoned prominently. "Na padhoongi, na padhne doongi," the headline read, in another underhand reference to Irani's educational qualifications.

But more than all this, it is the ceaseless whisper campaign in the media about what a bad minister she is and how Prime Minister Modi would do good to evict her from HRD that makes one wonder about conspiracy theories and media bias.

Irani punctured such proclamations through her speech in this year's Budget Session, about how her ministry had resolved student woes running into the thousands. She lambasted her critics with detailed documentary evidence in both Rohith and JNU, which showed how a tragedy in the former and loose cannon-ery in the latter was milked for political ends.


With the Left and UPA she was even more scathing. One of the high points of her speech was her reading of a Left pamphlet that glorified Mahishasur as a dark-skinned victim of Durga, who in this interpretation was called a sex worker. Irani wondered aloud about the roots of this "depraved mentality" and asked if such remarks would pass muster in Calcutta, the hub of left politics but also the land of Pujo.

She took the UPA to task for the sorry state of Indian education for encouraging a state of affairs in which students as young as ten were fed propaganda about Hindu fascism. Further, she chastised the previous government for promoting divisiveness by looking at, and responding to, students via the silos of caste, class and religion.

She read from a teachers' manual prepared by Teesta Setalvad during Kapil Sibal's time in which Indian history was sought to be apologised for, at best, and whitewashed, at worst. She read an instance of a Mumbai teacher who had written that she felt compelled to apologise to her Muslim students when discussing the Battle of Pratapgarh in which Afzal Khan was killed by Shivaji.

The fight for ideological supremacy is out in the open. It has been gaining ascendancy for some time now but after Rohith and JNU, the battles lines are clearly drawn.

Irani's comments in Parliament represent the most grievous and also, given the place and time, the most potent attack on an ideological edifice that has ruled the Indian education system for decades.

Finally, it was Irani's presentation itself that was most striking. As she spoke about Rohith, she was visibly shaken. It seemed that she had internalised the trauma of his death and blended it with her trademark anger before walking into Lok Sabha. She used all the tools in the actor's arsenal, mixing emotion with body language, and dovetailed them with a seasoned politician's command of rhetoric and facts, to drive home her point. Boy, did she succeed!

Last updated: February 26, 2016 | 11:04
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